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Mr. President and Madame Porn Star: Equal Rivals?

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Back in the ’80s and ’90s, there was a show called “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” which broadcast the excess of millionaire indulgences and overindulgences.  Whether the show focused on private planes or yachts larger than cargo ships, the show’s host, Robin Leach, touted the happiness associated with an overly-privileged life.  One “character” the show featured was a man with an elaborate comb-over hairstyle who spoke as a faux Manhattan aristocrat would.  He was obviously an egotistical and narcissistic man and thrilled to talk about his solid gold life, a life he indicated was better than any other. Back in 1994, the show,  “Lifestyles” introduced the nation and world to Donald J. Trump and captured him perfectly.

Since then, Trump has gone on to amass greater wealth or debt –  depending on who you believe – more female companions, and the most influential job in America, as president. A blowhard attitude and hedonistic history would have tanked any other political candidate, especially one running for president.  However, the more Trump spoke of his excess – the very excess displayed on “Lifestyles” – the more people followed him in a cult-like fashion. While his past debt, womanizing or wanton attitude didn’t affect his rise to power, now comes a political disaster of his own making, a porn star named Stormy Daniels.

 

Stormy

Stephanie Clifford aka “Stormy Daniels” is just as gaudy in appearance as Trump. Daniels’ bright blonde hair – ever flowing and bouncing – is as elaborate as Trump’s, and it’s quite possible that she’s his equal in more ways than one. For what Daniels may lack in modesty, she makes up for in shrewdness, cunning, planning and exploitation of the media. Basically, she is a smarter and slightly more likeable version of Trump.

Speaking for the President, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has denied all of Daniels’ allegations. Interestingly, though, Trump has been quiet on the matter. This is particularly curious given Daniels’ publicity and her connection to Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney. Trump normally (always) attacks anyone who says something negative about him or questions him. Daniels is, for whatever reason, different.

We all know the story, even more so since Daniels’ appearance on “60 Minutes.”  In very basic terms, Trump and Daniels had sex in 2006. Cohen paid Daniels (as he has alleged with his own money) $130,000 as a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) days before the 2016 Presidential election. However, the payment, itself, is now under scrutiny and is speculated to have constituted a payment in-kind contribution by Cohen to the campaign finances.

Unlike others, Daniels’ media attention – fueled by her lawyer, Michael Avennati – has not gone away. She is not simply selling a sex story. Her influence has exceeded that. Her influence now has more to do with legal matters, matters which are dangerous to Trump and certainly to his attorney.

On April 16, 2018, Daniels and Avennati were present at Cohen’s hearing (more on that later).  There was no real purpose for their presence other than to either intimidate Cohen or remind him that they exist, or both. After the hearing, there was also no reason to interview the two. The media, though, clamored to get a statement from each. Avennati referred to Cohen as “radioactive” while Daniels said that Cohen has “acted like he is above the law…[and] played by a different set of rules, but that behavior ends now.”  Daniels might be right.



Cohen and Probable Cause

John Gotti was a former Mafia boss during the 1980s and 90s who, despite having many criminal claims filed against him, was for more than a decade immune to successful prosecution, with three trials resulting in acquittals. His role as the “Don” of the Mafia and ability to deflect legal matters provided the basis for his nickname, “The Teflon Don.”

It seems that everything and everyone around Trump is crumbling. Various parties involved in the Trump campaign and even in the White House staff have been indicted, are facing indictments, have resigned/been fired, or have many difficult and uncomfortable questions to answer. Trump, though, is currently free from indictments or legal accusations. For the moment, it would seem he is the new Teflon Don.

Michael Cohen is not so Teflon. On April 9, 2018, the FBI raided his office, hotel room, and home. In order to get a warrant and conduct a raid, a law enforcement agency needs sufficient probable cause for a judge to sign the warrant. This is not a loose standard and extremely sufficient probable cause must exist when investigating the President’s personal, longtime attorney.

Richard Roth, a prominent attorney in New York City and frequent legal analyst for national news stations, explained to HERS Magazine the high level of probable cause the FBI had on Cohen to conduct a raid. He emphasized that the FBI “better be sure that this is not a political witch hunt; that this is not some kind of search [conducted by Democrats]; that this is real.”  Roth added, “You can’t ignore the fact that he (Cohen) is the personal attorney for Donald Trump. There must have been some very heavy probable cause.”

There are two basic things that the FBI is looking at in Cohen’s files:

  1. The payment to Daniels and whether Trump directly or indirectly committed election law violations with the payment.
  2. The Russian probe and information to aid in Robert Mueller’s investigation.

 

Part of the evidence that the FBI will go through is Cohen’s taped conversations. Cohen apparently recorded meetings with clients, and the FBI now has access to those. The conversations, though, are not carte blanche admissible. Anything between Cohen and Trump alone is protected under the attorney/client privilege. Conversely, any taped conversations between Cohen, Trump (when Cohen is representing Trump individually), and a third-party are admissible. There are a “plethora and goldmine” of taped conversations according to Roth. Because of this, Cohen is sweating and Trump is undoubtedly patting his forehead with a hand towel.

 

Excuse Me, Pardon Me…Literally

It comes at a curious time that Donald Trump pardoned Scooter Libby, former adviser to Dick Cheney. A well-known rule of the presidency is that a U.S. President may seek a presidential pardon for his friends. We’ve often seen this measure on a President’s last day in office, oftentimes pardoning someone who doesn’t deserve a pardon. A fitting colloquial phrase for this measure would be: “Hooking up his homeboys.”

Regarding the April 14, 2018 pardon of Libby, Roth said that Trump is “showing the pardon card.” Trump is flashing his power to lawmakers that he does have the ability to pardon, although it’s not limitless and untouchable despite what Trump may believe. Roth added that the recent pardon is a “statement by Trump.”

As for Trump’s own fate, Roth said that the “gambit can be nothing to indictment.” Essentially, everything is undetermined for Trump. We do not know what will happen and it could be nothing or a lot.

Trump’s pardon of Libby is not for the good of Libby, per se. Trump wants people – Congress and everyone else – to see that he can still be The Teflon Don. It’s not fully clear whether a President can pardon himself given the rules of a Presidential pardon (it first has to go to Congress); however, Trump, like all things in his presidency, wants people to believe that he is a ruler who operates with impunity.

We cannot continue talking about Trump without mentioning his favorite phrase. Any time something goes wrong for Trump, “he yells ‘fake news’” Roth stated. Trump is “very good at changing the subject.” A pardon and a change of subject (attacking James Comey, former FBI Director, while Cohen is knee-deep in legal problems) are Trump’s attempts at showing his self-perceived limitless power and that everything is a baseless conspiracy against him.

Where’s It All Going?

Until becoming President, Trump was never a politician and had never run for any sort of office. His job prior to President was celebrity. Yes, this is an actual job in contemporary America.

Scandals surrounding celebrities are commonplace, almost a rite of passage for a celebrity. Trump has a penchant for scandals. Before Daniels, there were plenty of problems in the White House, but none of them stuck. The media eventually stopped reporting on them. As Roth summed up perfectly, “We (Americans) are very short-term minded people. We don’t remember anything. We don’t remember what happened yesterday.”

Daniels, on the other hand, won’t go away. Unlike previous presidential affairs, it isn’t the sexual encounter that’s going to potentially hurt the president. In this instance, it’s the legal matters and the potentially illegal form of payment that are the real killers.


This is not to say that Daniels will singlehandedly bring Trump down. We don’t know that anything will bring Trump down. Perhaps he will be impeached. Perhaps he will resign. Perhaps nothing will happen and he’ll serve out the remainder of his term and focus on being elected for a second term.

We can get rid of one perhaps. Daniels is not “perhaps” trouble for Trump, she is trouble for Trump. She is different from the affairs of past presidents. She is not a passive actor that people only whisper about. She’s active, on the news, and has a voice. Daniels specifically said that she is not a #MeToo woman and is not a champion for feminists. She is, though, a strong woman. She is using the media just as the media has used her, and only time will tell if she will be the downfall of President Trump.

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